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Periplus is the Latinization of an ancient Greek word, περίπλους (periplous, contracted from periploos), literally "a sailing-around." Both segments, peri- and -plous, were independently productive: the ancient Greek speaker understood the word in its literal sense; however, it developed a few specialized meanings, one of which became a standard term in the ancient navigation of Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans.
A periplus was a manuscript document that listed, in order, the ports and coastal landmarks, with approximate intervening distances, that the captain of a vessel could expect to find along a shore. It served the same purpose as the later Roman itinerarium of road stops; however, the Greek navigators added various notes, which if they were professional geographers (as many were) became part of their own additions to Greek geography. In that sense the periplus was a type of log.
The form of the periplus is at least as old as the earliest Greek historian, the Ionian Hecataeus of Miletus. The works of Herodotus and Thucydides contain passages that appear to have been based on periploi.
Several examples of periploi have survived:
- The Periplus of Hanno the Navigator, a 6th century BCE Carthaginian colonist and explorer, described the coast of Africa from present-day Morocco deep into the Gulf of Guinea.
- The Massaliote Periplus, a description of trade routes along the coasts of Atlantic Europe, possibly dating to the 6th century BCE
- Pytheas of Massilia, (4th century BCE) On the Ocean (Περί του Ωκεανού), has not survived; only excerpts remain, quoted or paraphrased by later authors, notably in Avienus' Ora maritima.
- The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea was written by a Romanized Alexandrian in the 1st century CE. It gives the shoreline itinerary of the Red (Erythraean) Sea, starting each time at the port of Berenice. Beyond the Red Sea, the manuscript describes the coast of India as far as the Ganges River and the east coast of Africa (called Azania).
- The Periplus Ponti Euxini, a description of trade routes along the coasts of the Black Sea, written by Arrian in the early 2nd century CE.
A periplus was also an ancient naval manoeuvre in which attacking triremes would outflank or encircle the defenders in order to attack them in the rear.
- ↑ Kish, George (1978). A Source Book in Geography. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 21. ISBN 0674822706, ISBN 9780674822702.
- ↑ Shahar, Yuval (2004). Josephus Geographicus: The Classical Context of Geography in Josephus. Mohr Siebeck. p. 40. ISBN 3161482565, ISBN 9783161482564.